Monthly Archives: January 2012

Looking to the Past to Move Forward: Ditillo & Verkhoshansky

If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

Bruce Lee

The dreaded strength plateau, is there anything more frustrating?  Depending on how long you’ve been strength training, you may have experience numerous plateaus, each increasingly irritating than the previous one.

Usually, strength plateaus primarily occur to trainees who train solo.  Those who train in groups, have the added benefit of training under their peer’s watchful eyes, providing additional motivation to keep from being the weakest in the group.  Training under the guidance of a coach, provides you not only with objective feedback, but with someone experienced at making minute changes to training programs, keeping plateaus at bay.

The following training protocols are ones I use when trainees experience strength plateaus.  The concepts are not mine, but have been influenced by the works of Anthony Ditillo and Yuri Verkhoshansky.  The protocols will utilize the bench press for demonstration purposes, but can be utilized for any compound exercise.

Verkhoshansky

Set 1: bench press 90% max, 3 reps

rest 3-4 minutes

Set 2: bench press 95% max, 1 rep

rest 3-4 minutes

Set 3: bench press 97%  max, 1 rep

rest 3-4 minutes

Set 4: bench press 100% max, 1 rep

rest 3-4 minutes

Set 5: bench press 100% max, plus 1-2 kg. (perform only if confident in completing the rep)

Rest 6-8 minutes and repeat three times.

According to Verkhoshansky, “The training effect of this method is directed mainly to the improvement of the central nervous system to generate a powerful flow of motor impulses to the muscles; include a greater number of muscle fibers in the work effort and increase the power of the energy acquisition mechanism for the muscle contraction.”

Additionally, I have found this protocol to help trainees get over their mental hurdle of handling heavy weight.

Ditillo

Anthony Ditillo was a huge advocate of using the power rack for partial range of motion lifts.  In my opinion, his methods of utililizing the power rack for overcoming strength plateaus are some of the most productive protocols available.

A1. Top 1/4 bench press 3 x 4-6 reps 2010 tempo

rest 120 seconds

A2. Pull ups 3 x 5-7 reps 4010 tempo

rest 120 seconds

B1. Top 1/2 bench press 3 x 4-6 reps 3010 tempo

rest 100 seconds

B2. Chin ups 3 sets x 5-7 reps 4010 tempo

rest 100 seconds

C1. Full range bench press 3 x 4-6 reps 4010 tempo

100 seconds

C2. Semi-supinated chin ups 3 x 5-7 reps 4010 tempo

rest 100 seconds

For this protocol, performing the partial range of motion bench presses allows you to utilize considerably heavier weight, and to focus on the most common sticking points .  This heavier weight also serves to recruit a higher number of muscle fibers and stimulate the nervous system for the full range bench press.

For a more thorough explanation of this protocol, read my article “Shattering Your Plateaus In 3 Easy Steps.”

 All Together Now

The following training split is recommended:

Day 1: Verkhoshansky protocol

Day 2: lower body

Day 3: off

Day 4: Ditillo protocol

Day 5: lower body

Day 6: off

Day 7: off

Repeat

In order to break through your plateaus, you must overload the involved muscle groups in a manner foreign to your regular training program.  Remember, Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

By utilizing concepts from two of the best minds the strength and conditioning community has ever known, you will ensure your continual success.

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Stretching 101: The Glutes

Lower back pain?  Do you sit at a desk all day?  Speak to any Fascial Stretch Therapist and they’ll be quick to point out that prolonged sitting acts as a physical stressor to the glutes, external rotators and hamstring muscle, causing the body to lay down additional collagen to strengthen and support the areas under stress.

Consider the following excerpt from Ann and Chris Frederick’s excellent book Stretch to Win:

“When you sit or lay down, your body adapts to the surface of the furniture or the floor.  But if you sit or stay in a position too long, your fascial system accumulates stress and strain from the summation of forces on the body…if you do not change position often, as is the case with many who sit at work, then your fascia thickens in the areas that are under prolonged or repetitive stress and strain.”

Collagen fibers, possessing only a slight level of stretch capabilities, can significantly reduce flexibility.

The Figure Four Stretch

While it’s the most prescribed stretch for the glutes and external rotators, it’s also the most poorly executed stretch, possessing a high risk of injury for those with an extremely limited range of motion.

For this stretch, the closer the torso and lower body are brought together, the greater the stretch placed on the glutes and external rotators. Here are the most common errors in its execution:

Flexion of the Cervical Spine

Due to their limited range of motion, some people will “turtle neck” their head towards their lower body, providing the illusion of an increase in their range of motion.

Flexion of the Thoracic Spine & Pulling on the Knee

Mostly executed by those with the least amount of flexibility, this compensation pattern possesses the highest risk of injury due to the pulling of knee to help maintain their seated position.  While the previous compensation pattern concentrated on the cervical spine, in this version, the thoracic spine is flexed and the knee is pulled towards the body, serving as a “handle” for the athlete to maintain their balance.  The pulling of the knee combined with limited external rotation, places a high level of forces on the ligaments of the knee.

There’s a Better Mousetrap

When working on improving a client’s flexibility, there are two classification of stretches we utilize:

  1. Those performed under our instruction
  2. Those performed away from our training facilities
For safe and efficient gains in flexibility, proper form is mandatory.  However, when on their own, athletes will often overlook the smaller details of a stretch position, severely limiting their flexibility gains and increasing their injury potential.  To prevent your client’s from utilizing anything but proper form, it’s essential you employ the use of barriers.

Barriers

Using floors and/or walls as barriers, provides immediate feedback to your clients about their body mechanics, making it considerably easier to maintain proper form.  Barriers should be utilized by your clients whenever away from your watchful eye.

The Stretch

  • Client lies flat on the ground, legs are straight out against the wall
  • Glutes should be as close to the wall as their hamstrings’ flexibility allows
  • A “soft bend” in the knees should be maintained
  • Once in position, toes should be slowly dorsiflexed
  • Head, back and hips should maintain contact with the floor at all times

  • Slowly lower the knee towards the ground
  • Using both hands, lightly hold the sole of the foot to maintain the stretch
  • The non-stretched leg should maintain its soft bend, if not, slide glutes away from the wall
  • Client should ensure their head, back and hips maintain contact with the floor
  • Maintain the stretched position for 45-75 seconds
  • Perform 2-3 stretches per leg, alternating back and forth between both legs

As coaches, you’re well aware of the numerous benefits of proper stretching; improved performance, decreased injury potential and an increased sense of well-being.  However, by having your clients utilize barriers, they receive vital feedback about their stretching mechanics, allowing them to relax and focus on the stretch.

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Weightlifting 101: How To Use Your Skinfold Calipers

“What’s measured improves.”

Peter F. Drucker

In the business world, if you fail to install a system of measurements, progress stalls.  You need to have a “scorecard” in place to track whether the procedures and tactics you’re utilizing improve the bottom line: profits.  And everything you implement either adds or subtracts from your profitability.

In the strength and conditioning field, having metrics as a means for keeping “score,” allows you to objectively quantify whether your training, nutrition and supplement protocols are appropriate for a specific client.  So what are the best metrics for a strength coach?  A training log and a pair of skinfold calipers.

Training log

A training log is anything you utilize to keep a permanent record of your client’s progress in the weight room.  At a minimum, recording weights lifted and the number of repetitions performed, serves as an objective witness with perfect recall.  Additionally, training logs allow numerous opportunities for mining information pertinent to the future performance of your clients.  Even a casual review of their previous training logs can reflect training variables which produced significant improvements in performance.

Skinfold Calipers

As with training logs, utilizing a pair of calipers for periodic skinfold measurements can provide objective information in regards to a client’s progress in the gym and at the dinner table.  However, unlike training logs, calipers can produce significant inconsistencies in skinfold measurements due to the use of inexpensive skinfold calipers and inconsistent user operation.

Which Calipers?

When it comes to ensuring consistent skinfold measurements, research quality calipers are a must.  The calipers of choice for researchers and strength coaches are the Harpenden Skinfold Calipers.  Designed in 1958, Harpenden calipers exert a constant and repeatable compression force of 10 g/mm2 over its entire jaw measuring range.  Inexpensive caliper models, with their non-constant jaw tension, provide inaccurate skinfold measurements and ultimately, inaccurate body fat percentages.  While Harpenden’s $400 price tag may discourage some, consider the years of service they’re going to provide.  I purchased my first set of Harpenden calipers in 1989 and if not for the dirtbag who broke into my car in 2001, I would still be using that same pair today.

User Operation

The most frequently asked question concerning the use of skinfold calipers pertains to timing.  Once the calipers are applied, at what point do you take the skinfold reading?  Should you wait a predetermined amount of time, or should you wait until the gauge pointer comes to a stop? As you’ll soon read, the difference in timing, will produce substantially different body fat percentages.

The Best Research Study I Ever Found

Many years back, while completing laboratory work for an exercise physiology class, I learned the important lesson of consistent and repeatable measuring.  The assignment, was to record skinfold measurements on ten different laboratory students, male and female.  While my fellow students were taking my skinfold measurements, I noticed that each of them were recording them at different intervals after applying the calipers.  While some were recording the measurements after two seconds, with the gauge needle still moving, other were waiting over thirty seconds until the needle came to a complete stop.  This time difference, I believed, explained the considerable differences in measurements my laboratory mates were recording.

Bringing these different measurements to the attention of the laboratory assistant didn’t provide any answers.  The best explanation the assistant could provide, was “user error.”

That same day, after a two-hour search at the university library (this was pre-internet, when research actually took time), I found the following study:

Becque, M. Daniel, Time Course of Skin-Plus-Fat Compression in Males and Females, Human Biology, 58:1 (1986:Feb.) p33

In the study, researchers wanted to determine how skinfold measurements were affected by the length of time the calipers were applied to skinfolds.  Measurements were taken at the following time intervals: 2, 4, 6, 10, 15, 20, 30, 45 and 60 seconds.  The researcher’s benchmark, was to determine a time period which provided a skinfold measurement free of compression and deformation.

Here are the highlights:

  • “The practice of waiting for the caliper dial to stabilize before recording, results in reduced thickness estimates.”
  • “If the criterion measurement is uncompressed skin-plus-fat then the reading should be made ‘as soon’ as the calipers are applied to the skin, since over 70% of the total compression takes place within 4 seconds.”
  • “The absolute change in the thickness of the skinfold from application of the caliper until the end of the measurement period ranges between 0.3 mm and 4.5 mm…use of the initial or the final skinfold can result in a range of differences in predicted fat from 2-8 fat percentage points (10-50% difference).”
  • “…skinfold compression conforms to a two component exponential curve.  The fast component of the decay curve is representative of the expression of interstitial water from the skin-plus-fat fold.  The slow component of the decay is most likely characteristic of the squeezing of the two thicknesses of skin-plus-fat until parallel. “
  • “…the period of time before the caliper is read should be standardized.  Based on the present data, it is recommended that this time be no longer than 4 seconds in duration”

According to the data, once the caliper’s jaws exert full pressure to the skinfold, subcutaneous water is first displaced followed by compression of the skin and underlying fat.  By the four-second mark, greater than 70% of the compete compression of the skin and fat has occurred.  Therefore, if a true uncompressed measurement is desired, the skinfold reading must be made within two seconds of the calipers being applied.

Worst case scenario: if you utilize measurements from compressed skinfolds, you may be underestimating your client’s body fat percentage by up to 8%.  For instance, instead of being at 8% body fat, they’re actually at 16%.

FYI

  • Take two measurements at each skinfold site, averaging the two readings.
  • To prevent skinfold compression, take the readings in rotational order.
  • Take measurements prior to exercise.
  • For accurate skinfold readings, record measurements 2 seconds after applying the calipers.
  • For consistent and accurate results, use the 2 second time frame for every skinfold measurement and for everyone one of your clients.

For the strength coach, employing metrics can reveal the efficacy of training and nutritional programs.  Additionally, they will also give the impression to your clients that you truly care about their progress.  And by utilizing metrics consistently across all clients, you ensure repeatable and predictable results.

What’s rarely measured, is even more rarely achieved.

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The LumberJack: Explosive Strength Done Right

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult”

Warren Buffet

If you were to ask one hundred personal trainers which muscle groups receive training priority by the majority of male gym goers, the vast majority of them would answer the “mirror muscles.”  Yeah, you know…chest, biceps and shoulders, muscles they can train while eye-f*cking themselves in the mirror.  Which is unfortunate, because the muscles on the posterior side of the body play an immense role in running and jumping.  Neglect to train your glutes and you’ll be lucky to jump over a puddle without getting your shoes wet.  Neglect your hamstrings and instead of sprinting down the track, you’ll find yourself stuck in a perpetual state of vertical oscillation…like Rush Limbaugh on a pogo stick.

When it comes to training the posterior muscles, one of our favorite devices is the LumberJack.

The LumberJack is the brainchild of Canadian Olympic weightlifting coach extraordinaire Pierre Roy, who devised it for training the posterior muscles in a manner unique from the Olympic lifts.  I was first introduced to the LumberJack in 2003, by Ben Prentiss, who wouldn’t let me leave his gym until I performed a few sets, just to get his point across.  On my two-hour drive home from Ben’s gym, I felt what could best be described as a “tightening” sensation across every one of my posterior muscles.  I bought one as soon as I got home.

The list of coaches who utilize the LumberJack in their training programs, reads like a Who’s Who of the strength and conditioning field:

While the LumberJack exercise has been described as a pull-through/power snatch combination, watch the video to fully appreciation both the simple and effectiveness of the motion.

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Trophy, Stanley Cup, World Cup – 2004

What makes the LumberJack devastatingly effective, is the greater range of motion in which the posterior chain is engaged.  Additionally, due to the simple hip extension movement, some athletes find it easier to incorporate into their training than traditional Olympic lifts.

The following two protocols represent the most commonly utilized used when integrating the LumberJack into training programs.

Contrast Method

The contrast method involves supersetting two exercises: one heavy strength exercise and one light explosive exercise. The goal, is to use the first heavy strength exercise to stimulate a high level of fast twitch muscle fibers, which results in a higher power output during the second, lighter exercise.

Method 1

A1. Bent-Knee Deadlift Snatch Grip   6 sets x 3-5 reps  3-0-X-0 tempo 10 seconds rest

A2. LumberJack   6 sets x 3-5 reps 1-0-X-0 tempo  180 seconds rest

In this protocol, the low rep deadlifts ensure a higher number of muscle fibers are stimulated, in order to maximize the explosive strength levels achieved during the LumberJack exercise.  The LumberJack reps are kept low, to certify they are all executed with a high level of acceleration.

Method 2

A1. LumberJack   8 sets x 2-4 reps  1-0-X-0 tempo  10 seconds rest

A2. 30 m sprints   8 sets x 30 m    120 seconds rest

B. PNF Stretching, Hip Flexors 5 minutes

C. 60 m sprints  4 sets x 60 m 180 seconds rest

In this protocol, the LumberJack is utilized as the muscle fiber/CNS stimulating exercise, to potentiate the athlete’s hip extensor muscles for the 30 m sprints.

In Season Maintenance Program

A. LumberJack  4 sets x 4-6 reps  1-0-X-0 tempo  120 seconds rest

B1. Split Squats, Barbell  4 sets x 6-8 reps  5-0-X-0 tempo  90 seconds rest

B2. Lying Leg Curl 3 positions Dorsiflexed  4 sets x 4-6 reps 5-0-X-0 tempo  90 seconds rest

C1. Chin-ups Lean Away Supinated Grip  4 sets x 4-6 reps  5-0-1-0 tempo  90 seconds rest

C2. Bench Press 30° Incline Barbell Close Grip  4 sets x 6-8 reps  5-0-1-0 tempo  90 seconds rest

For this protocol, the LumberJack is utilized by National level shorttrack speedskaters to maintain strength and conditioning produced in the off-season.

 

Kettlebell Swings?

The most frequently asked question concerning execution of the LumberJack exercise is “Isn’t that just a kettlebell swing?”  Short answer: NO.

  • The LumberJack exercise is not a “swing,” but a combo move consisting of an explosive pull-through with a snatch towards the end of the concentric range of motion.
  • While a kettlebell swing utilizes a rotatory motion throughout its entire range of motion, the LumberJack employs a sudden drop of the hips towards the end of the concentric portion of the exercise.
  • The V-shaped handle of the LumberJack allows for  a “sternum-up” position, optimizing  shoulder and thoracic spine mechanics.
  • I have utilized loads up to 125 lbs on my LumberJack. Its easy-on, easy-off design, facilitates loading, especially when used with a group of athletes with varying strength levels.

As you can see, the LumberJack can be utilized for numerous protocols.  Along with its ease of use and compact size, the LumberJack challenges the posterior muscles in a manner uniquely its own.  And if the best coaches in the world use it to develop their athlete’s explosive strength, shouldn’t you?

The LumberJack we use, was designed and manufactured by Brady Powers.  Along with the LumberJack, Brady manufactures a great line of weightlifting and Strongman gear.  Visit his website www.monster-grips.com.

Order your LumberJack by January 24, and it’s shipped FREE.

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The Supplement Files: Triathlete Edition

Q: What’s the quickest way to get on Wolfgang’s sh*t list?

A: Ask him how many treadmills he has in his gym.

 New Year’s is a time of celebration, of saying good-bye to the past and looking forward to new beginnings.  However, in order for me to truly start off 2012 with a clean slate and conscience, I must first come clean.  There’s something which I have been keeping from you, a secret which only a select few outside of my family know.  Here it is:

I am a former endurance athlete.

Whew…I feel better getting it off my chest.  Actually, that wasn’t as bad as I thought!  But seriously, in a community that’s well aware of the negative physiological effects aerobic activity induces on the central nervous system and overall health, strength coaches are frequently surprised when they learn of my long distance running past.

My initial exposure to long distance running, came out of family tradition.  My forefathers, originally from Northwestern Mexico, were a group of indigenous people with a rich history of long distance running.  When my grandparents migrated to Texas, they made certain to impart their traditions to their children and grandchildren, especially that of endurance running.

At the age of twelve, I started accompanying my father on fifteen mile training runs.  At the age of seventeen, while on a summer break from school, I decided to go on a fifty mile run.  To demonstrate how much endurance running was a regular part of my life, the only preparation I took, was to measure a ten-mile section of road that traversed through the center of my home town, McAllen, TX.  My intentions were to run this ten-mile section of road back and forth, a total of five times.  I selected this particular ten-mile section because it contained a large concentration of fast food restaurants, which I planned to use for restroom and water breaks.  Yeah, I was that naive.  Who needs a support team, hydration and medical stations when you have the testicular fortitude of a seventeen year old?

At the twenty-mile mark, I stopped into Shipley Do-Nuts, a local donut shop, for three donuts.  I was hungry.

At the forty-seven mile mark, my shoes fell apart.  Literally.

While I was used to running on dirt roads and fields, the forty-seven miles I had logged, represented the longest I had run on paved roads and sidewalks.  I overestimated the abuse my running shoes could endure and had to resort to wrapping the shoelaces around the shoes, to keep the soles from falling off.  Knowing, that at least for that day, my quest for running fifty miles was done, I began my three-mile walk home.

My goal for sharing this story with you, is not to impress you, but to impress upon you, what little we knew about sports nutrition and optimal recovery techniques back in the 80’s.  Back them, my normal post-run recovery consisted of a three-mile walk, to “flush lactic acid” from my muscles and a 32 oz lemon-lime Gatorade.  And let’s not forget my three donut race snack.

And now, over 30 years later, we haven’t fared much better.  Although we currently have a wealth of scientifically validated information concerning optimal recovery techniques, specifically concerning the use of nutrition and supplements, the information goes largely ignored.  For instance, one popular triathlete sports nutritionist states “Chocolate milk is a great recovery drink.”

We have put men on the moon, we have eradicated numerous diseases such as polio and we have even invented materials with sufficient tensile strength to contain Sofia Vergara’s ample bosom, but the best we can offer athletes for their exercise recovery is chocolate milk?

Being a firm believer of the adage “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” I am here to offer my solution to the recovery quandary, specifically for endurance athletes.

Enhanced Recovery for Improved Performance

 In any sport, where you not only compete against other competitors, but against the clock, speed is king.  Mere seconds can make the difference between setting a PR or your friends lamenting “There’s always next year!”  Unfortunately, athletes frequently overlook the single most important determining factor of improved performance: recovery.

Meet Hans Seyle

Hans Seyle, a Hungarian endocrinologist, devised the term “General Adaptation Syndrome,” which explains how the body reacts to both physical and non-physical stress.  Seyle’s research demonstrated that when introduced to a stressor, the body initially adapts to the demands placed upon it.  For athletes, the initiating stressor can be:

  • a new training program
  • increase in volume/mileage
  • increase in training frequency
  • training in unfamiliar weather conditions

But if the stressor continues uninterrupted, without allowing complete recovery, then the body’s resources are depleted to the point where it can no longer maintain normal function.  Athletes know this stage as overtraining and it usually manifest as a depressed immune system and/or injuries.

The key therefore, when seeking consistent improvements in sports performance, is the proper management of your fatigue.

The following is a supplement program I designed for a Ironman Triathlon top 35 finisher.

 Ironman 2.0 

 In a poll I came across a few years ago, athletes from numerous sports were asked where they turned to for answers, when they had questions concerning sports nutrition and supplements.  The results were surprising.  Over 45% of athletes who participated, stated they turned to websites, an addition 35% stated they turned to magazines, and the remaining 19% stated they relied on books for information.  I say this is surprising because, in reality, anyone can set-up a website and become an instant authority on any subject in less than thirty minutes…just ask any Crossfitter.  The internet, which makes it easy and in some cases anonymous, to disseminate information which may be false or biased is no longer the sole domain of commercial enterprises.  As for magazines being reliable sources of information, good luck!  It’s common for magazines to publish articles with a commercial slant, especially towards their paid advertisers.  Additionally, a client recently sent me a copy of an article written my a Registered Dietician, who wrote, that if you ate in accordance with US government guidelines, there wouldn’t be a need for supplementing vitamins/minerals.  Oh, really?  Well, let’s see what science and peer-reviewed studies have to say about this:

 “Only supplementation was able to significantly boost nutrient levels and confer beneficial effects on general welfare, physical performance, and resistance to infections. Therefore, it appears that nutritional supplements are advisable for everyone…food is too weak to replete depleted cells and bodies.”

Advances in Therapy, Volume 24, Number 5/September, 2007

“Suboptimal folic acid levels, along with suboptimal levels of vitamins B6 and B12, are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, neural tube defects, and colon and breast cancer; low levels of vitamin D contribute to osteopenia and fractures; and low levels of the antioxidant vitamins (vitamins A, E, and C) may increase risk for several chronic diseases.  Most people do not consume an optimal amount of al the vitamins by diet alone…it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.”

Fairfield, Kathleen M., Fletcher, Robert H., The Journal of the American Medical Association, June 2002

 The above mentioned studies, specifically mention that foods are too weak to nutritionally support the “average person.”  What does this mean for the athlete, specifically the endurance athlete?

Here endeth the lesson, now let’s get to the good stuff!

The Good Stuff

The key for optimal recovery, is not to wait until you’ve finished your training to begin your supplementation.  By utilizing supplementation, prior, during and after your training or competition, you minimize the following negative effects:

  • catabolic state
  • elevated cortisol
  • muscle fiber damage
  • stressed adrenals
  • depleted glutamine stores
  • oxidative stress

The Supplement List

 Vitamin C

While everyone is familiar with its positive effects on the immune system and antioxidant capabilities, vitamin C has also been shown to curtail the negative physical and psychological effects of long-term exercise.

During exercise, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which activates the “fight or flight” response.  One of cortisol’s primary functions is to introduce glucose from muscle tissue into the blood stream where it can be utilized for immediate energy production.  However, cortisol has other effects such as elevated blood pressure, reduced immune system activity, excessive muscle breakdown and affects calcium balance, which become of concern if levels are allowed to remain chronically elevated.  Fortunately, numerous peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated vitamin C blunts the release of cortisol, allowing the body’s physiological processes to return to normal, by enabling a relaxation response which initiates the recovery process.

As for its immune boosting properties, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involving ultra marathoners, demonstrated that vitamin C prevented the development of upper respiratory infections.

One of vitamin C’s lesser known functions, might interest all athletes: the maintenance of connective tissue.  Vitamin C assists numerous enzymes involved in the synthesis and maintenance of collagen, which keeps cartilage, ligaments, tendons strong.

Vitamin C is required for the synthesis of carnitine, which transports fatty acids into mitochondria, where it is utilized for energy production.

To minimize any potential gastrointestinal distress associated with higher dosages, a buffered form of vitamin C should be utilized.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs are comprised of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine.  They are essential because the body cannot produce them and must come the foods you eat.  BCAAs have shown to increase exercise endurance, especially exercise conducted in high temperatures and altitudes, and counter fatigue induced declines in mental functioning.

However, the primary benefit of BCAAs is their ability in decreasing muscle fiber breakdown during exercise.  The less muscle fiber damage produced during training and competition, the quicker your recovery.

Additionally, studies conducted with triathletes at the 1997-98 Sao Paulo International Triathlon, BCAAs inhibited the reduction of blood glutamine levels.   This was a crucial finding, as a decrease in blood glutamine concentration is an indication of immune system suppression.  In the studies, triathletes who supplemented with BCAAs, maintained their blood glutamine levels and considerably reduced their incidence of infections, compared to those triathletes given a placebo.

Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and provides numerous benefits for athletes seeking optimum performance and recovery:

  • reduces inflammation in muscle tissue, thereby reducing soreness and speeding recovery
  • preferred fuel of immune system cells, especially during prolonged, intense exercise
  • prevents the breakdown of muscle fibers
  • increases muscle cell hydration
  • required for the production of glutathione, known as the “mother of all antioxidants.”

Under normal physiological conditions, the body is able to produce sufficient glutamine to meet its daily needs.  However, during intense exercise, your muscles release waste products such as lactic acid and ammonia, which hastily deplete glutamine levels, up to 60% of your body’s supply.  And to further complicate matters, these waste products continue to diminish glutamine stores for hours after the completion of training or competition.

In a study involving marathon runners, only 19% of the athletes who consumed glutamine post race, experienced any illness, compared to 51% if athletes who consumed a placebo.

Due to its abilities to both strengthen the immune system and accelerate recovery, glutamine is a must for any endurance athlete serious about their health and performance.

Greens Powders

The human body is designed to function within a specific pH balance (acid/alkaline).  For optimal health and athletic performance, a slight alkaline balance is required to ensure the acidic metabolic waste produced by cells is removed from the body.  This is vital, as an acidic environment promotes diseases and of particular concern to athletes, systemic inflammation.

Unfortunately for athletes, exercise, particularly endurance exercise, rapidly shifts your body towards an acidic state. If this acidic state continues unfettered, your muscular contractions will become progressively weaker, severely handicapping your physical capabilities.  Furthermore, increased acidity inhibits energy transfer between cells.

Greens powders, due to their vegetable and fruit ingredients, shift the acid/alkaline balance towards the a performance enhancing alkaline state.

Whey Protein

Due to their near obsessive focus on carbohydrates, the majority of endurance athletes are protein deficient.  This deficiency is the first issue I focus on resolving when hired for consultations, as protein is mandatory for the repair and maintenance of muscle tissue.  Even a slight protein deficiency will severely prolong recovery, increase fatigue and suppress the immune system.  Additionally, a whey + carbohydrate beverage significantly increases muscle glycogen replenishment rates over a carbohydrate only beverage.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the most utilized macronutrient among all athletes.  Unfortunately, they fail to make use of them in an advantageous manner.  To ensure maximum uptake by the muscles, a carbohydrate based beverage must achieve a 6-8% concentration.  Anything exceeding the recommended concentrations will fail to match bodily fluid osmolality, risking stomach distress due to slowed gastric emptying.

Electrolytes

Endurance athletes, due to their constant need for hydration, run the risk of hyponatremia or “water intoxication”, an electrolyte disturbance in which sodium concentrations in the blood are lower than normal.  While it used to be an extremely rare occurrence, it’s becoming increasingly prevalent as newcomers are competing in endurance events, specifically those utilizing a “lottery” entry system.

To minimize their risk of hyponatremia, endurance athletes should keep the amount of plain water consumed to a minimum.

The Magic Is In the Details

 The following event day supplement program was designed for a male, elite triathlete weighing 165 lbs/75 kg.  Over a three-month period, we experimented with dosages, relying on objective and subjective measures of performance, perceived effort, fatigue and mental status.

Thirty Minutes Pre-race

75 g carbohydrates

25 g whey protein

20 g glutamine

20 g BCAAs

1 tb greens powder

1 g vitamin C

300 mg electrolyte mix

Transition 1

1 g vitamin C

Bike 

Per water bottle:

70 g carbohydrate

20 g whey protein

15 g glutamine

15 g BCAAs

2 tsp greens powder

300 mg electrolyte mix

Transition 2

2 g vitamin C

Post Race

150g carbohydrates

30 g whey protein

20 g glutamine

15 g BCAAs

1 tsp greens powder

Consume every 2, 4 and 6 hours post-race.

You probably noticed this supplement protocol, omits any pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all, multi-ingredient supplement formulas.  While the manufacturers of these formulas claim ease of use as one of their main benefits, their true motive is one of profit.  Mutli-ingredient formulas have a higher profit margin than individually packaged supplements.  However, only by combining individual supplements to create a formula for your individual needs, can you truly maximize your recovery and performance.

Conclusion

 Being a triathlete requires considerable investment, both in time and financial resources.  By taking proactive measures,  you ensure the numerous hours you spend pushing yourself physically, as well as the money you’ve spent on bicycles, wetsuits and running shoes pays off in the form of improved strength and efficiency.  It’s important to realize the same physical training which improves your performance, also depletes your physical and mental resources.  If you don’t fully recovered from today’s training session, then you won’t gain anything from tomorrow’s.  And to continue training in a fatigued state, will only lead to overtraining, injuries, or plateaus in performance.

Remember, proper supplementation will not only considerably improve your performance, but ensures you derive maximum benefit from your $5,000 bicycle.

Wolfgang nicknamed me “Slow Twitch.”

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